Formation

I know I’m a week behind the rest of the world, but in my defense, one of my kids woke up in the middle of the Super Bowl halftime show and I missed Beyonce’s performance. I also hadn’t watched her new music video or heard the song until ten minutes ago so I only had a vague inkling of what all the fuss was about. Now that I HAVE watched it, I’d like to add my two cents to the conversation. Because that’s what this world needs, more opinions. (Especially mine.)

(If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, you can check it out here, but be advised that the lyrics are explicit and therefore might not be safe for work or appropriate for young children.)

I loved the song, and I loved the video. I know a lot of (white) people didn’t, and that’s okay, I’m used to my musical tastes being disagreed with and even ridiculed. I can’t tell you what the song/video “means” because I’m not the creator. However, I can use the skills I learned in AP English and art criticism classes, and I can listen to what other people (specifically: Black people, the people this song was written for) have said it means to them, and I can offer what I think is a valid interpretation.

I imagine that in 2016, a Black person in America would be tempted to see their race as a liability. I imagine that it’s terrifying to hear story after story of unarmed Black men, women, and children being killed and their murderers walking away without even a slap on the wrist – and to know that could happen to my husband, wife, child, mother, father, sister, brother, friend. I imagine that it would be tempting to hate who I am and what I look like because it puts me in danger.

white-privilege-is

And I imagine that it would be so refreshing to hear this song and hear Beyonce declare proudly that she loves who she is, she loves her features, she loves her family, and she’s not about to apologize for anything about herself that someone might think is “ghetto.” I imagine it would feel so good to sing along with a song that says, “I am who I am and I don’t care what you think,” in a way that is specifically, explicitly, Black. To see my identity as an asset, something to be celebrated, instead of something to be ashamed of.

But for some reason that seems to bother (white) people. Even though decades ago Barbara Mandrell sang “I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool)” and David Allan Coe wrote the N word into the chorus of “If That Ain’t Country.” For some reason it’s okay for white trash to be proud of being white trash, but we don’t want Black people to look like “thugs” (i.e. wear hoodies or saggy jeans, things that middle-class white boys do ALL THE TIME and don’t get, you know, killed for) or wear their hair in braids or dreadlocks or talk about how their lives matter. For some reason America is supposed to accept the Confederate flag as a piece of history, not a symbol of hate, but it’s NOT OKAY to have a Black performance artist dress up as a Black Panther.

stars-and-bars

Do you hear what I’m saying? If not, I’ll simplify it into two words: Double standard.

A complete and totally different issue here is the fact that people flip out over provocative words and images in pop music, forgetting that music is still art and art isn’t always supposed to give us warm fuzzies. Art should challenge us and get under our skin and make us think. Some art will give one person a warm fuzzy and totally piss off another person. Does that mean the artist has done something wrong? No, that means the artist has done something RIGHT. As a white person, yeah, I find it uncomfortable to talk about racism – especially about how it’s still very real and very dangerous in America in 2016. But artists like Beyonce remind me that being uncomfortable is a good thing sometimes. Being uncomfortable means my assumptions about the world are being challenged and that I have an opportunity to learn something. After all, my reality is not the only reality.

For further (better) reading on this subject, I recommend Awesomely Luvvie’s About Writing While Loving Blackness and Hurting White Feelings and Everyone Wanted to Be a Black Girl until Beyonce Dropped Formation at The B3 Chronicles. Both express what Beyonce’s song and video mean to them as Black women. And since Black women are (presumably) Beyonce’s target audience, I’d say that their opinion on the song is ultimately the only one that matters.

Oh, and by the way, this blog is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. I pay the web host, so I get to decide what comments stay and what goes. So if anyone leaves a comment that I think is in poor taste, I reserve the right to delete it. If you think that’s not fair, please feel free to get your own website (it’s easy! it’s cheap!) and talk about what a jerk I am over there.

“Imposter Syndrome”

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been feeling super creative and inspired over the past couple of weeks. Which is kind of awesome. But what’s even MORE awesome is the fact that I’ve also felt free to DO something with that creativity and inspiration, which means that I might just be recovering from my acute, chronic case of “imposter syndrome.”

I’d never had a word or words to describe the paradoxical feeling of “sure, I’m talented and I’ve done some stuff, but in reality I totally suck” that I’ve had about myself as an artist ever since college… and then I read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon and learned the term “imposter syndrome.” Clearly, the fact that Kleon’s book was a crazy successful bestseller is indication that I’m not the only creative person that suffers from this ailment, but I really kinda sorta thought that I was. Isn’t that funny? Don’t we all think we’re super special snowflakes, if not in our brilliance, then in our failure?

But somehow – and I’m not sure exactly how, I’m seriously still trying to work that out – I’ve turned off the “I suck” talk and have actually been making and doing things that I want to make and do.

Which is GREAT.

~ ~ ~ ~

(This story is totally related but doesn’t seem like it at first.)

I work in an office with a lot of very educated people, and the work we do is (mainly) focused on the Department of Defense. So the reading material that’s lying around is a lot of magazines about IT and engineering. I’m not an engineer and the older I get the more confused I am by computers, but I like to flip through these magazines so I at least get an idea of what’s happening in our industry and the sort of work we do.

One of my colleagues in an MIT alumnus and I assume that’s how we ended up with a recent issue of MIT Technology Review. When I first saw the cover I got a little *ahem* judge-y and joked to the other designer in my office that MIT must’ve let their graphics intern go a little crazy that month because ew.

MITTechnologyReviewCoverPUBLISHEDweb

But then I googled the illustrator and found out that oh hey he’s kind of brilliant and successful. Whoops! This just goes to show that yes, although there are objective “rules” for design, the enjoyment of design as art is still very subjective. Or perhaps it goes to show that I just don’t know what makes good design nowadays. (Second option is much more likely.)

Anyway, I became kind of fascinated with this designer, Elliott Earls. I will be totally honest with you: I think this guy’s work is weird. But I like it because what he’s doing is so authentic, so uniquely his own voice, that it inspires me to speak with my own unique voice even if (even WHEN) someone else thinks my stuff sucks.

While I was plugging away on PowerPoint presentation on Wednesday I listened to an interview that Earls did on Designing Minds. Something he said blew me away, so I replayed that particular section of the YouTube clip over a dozen times or more to get the quote almost perfect. I even wrote it down, but I left it pinned up in the cubicle at my office so you’re going to have to be happy with a paraphrase (or go watch the interview yourself).

He said something very close to this:

My whole life was attempting to live this idea I had of the perfect graphic designer, something that just didn’t come naturally to me. But once I let go of that and started doing work that I really enjoyed and felt passionate about, it’s like my career just took off.

And seriously my jaw just dropped because wow, could I relate to that. To the idea that an artist looks and acts a certain way and that I’m not a “real” artist because I don’t look and act like that. And thinking of my work as crap because it’s not as slick and innovative as so-and-so’s. Well, newsflash, Emily – you’re not so-and-so, you’re Emily, so your work isn’t ever going to look like so-and-so’s. It’s not supposed to.

I’m sure we’ve all seen that inspirational quote on Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest that says something to the effect of “Be yourself because you’re going to suck if you try to be anyone else.” Every time I see it I’m like, “Yeah yeah yeah, kum-ba-ya, self esteem booster shot in an ugly font, NO ONE CARES.”

But now I get it.

(At least, I THINK I get it.)

I’m an artist as long as I create art. Art that comes from my interests and thoughts and experiences, that I enjoy making and feel proud of. When I let go of impressing anyone in general or someone in particular, I’m free to make something genuine and beautiful. It’s a struggle every time I sit down with a pen or pencil in my hand to silence that inner editor, that Resistance, but I’ve been remarkably successful over the past few weeks, and that feels really, REALLY good.

Learn + Create (free printable)

I’m hoping I’ll be able to blog more about this at great length later, but right now all I’ve got time for is a drive-by post. I’m feeling so inspired and creative right now. Part of the reason is that I finally got around to reading Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, which was (of course), AWESOME. The rest of the reason is that I’ve been working my butt off to clear my house of clutter, and I think I’ve managed to shake loose a lot of mental clutter, too. So I’m arting and crafting a lot lately, and I came up with a new personal motto/mantra, a daily “to do” list that I want to share with you.

At the end of the day, I’ll consider myself successful if I have 1. learned something and 2. created something. So I made a simple graphic to hang in my workspace and remind me of that:

smoochagator-to-do

If you click on the picture, it’ll take you to a full-size copy of the graphic in PDF form. Right-click on it and save it to your computer so you can print it out and post it to remind YOU to learn something a create something every day.

A quick caveat: when I posted this image on Facebook, my mom was like, “And hugged your babies! You have to hug on your babies!” Well, yes. There are other things I do every day that just have to be done, like eat and sleep and breathe and pee, and yes, love my family. Those things are built into my routine. Creating and learning, unfortunately, AREN’T. I have to remind myself to pursue inspiration and do something with it, or else I get to the end of the week/month/year and I realize I haven’t done much more with my time than watch television and shovel junk food into my face. And I want to do more than that. Much, much more. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, which is why I’m sharing it.

Happy Friday!

The Confessional: Emily, the Reluctant Artist

I have a… complicated relationship with art. With “my” art.

As a child, I said I would be an artist when I grew up. As a teenager, I said I’d be a writer. Now I am, in a way, both; but I struggle every day with the feeling that I’m a fraud because I don’t fit my own idea of what an artist or a writer should look like, how they should behave, how (and how much) they should work.

I struggle every day with the feeling that I am not good enough, that my ideas are pedantic and their execution childish.

I feel lazy and outdated.

I think that I am a super-special unicorn for feeling this way, but of course I am just one of many artists who can’t see her own potential, or appreciate any modicum of success.

Over the weekend I met up with a good friend in Richmond and we spent some time at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Every time I visit an art museum I come home feeling invigorated. Bunnika and I joked about how I just wanted to see all the art and touch all the art and inhale all the art and make ALL THE ART.

Seriously, though. How can I not get a little breathless-with-squee when I had the pleasure of seeing pieces like these up-close-and-personal?

Fred_Tomaselli_woodpecker

Fred Tomaselli’s Woodpecker, Acrylic, gouache, collage, and epoxy resin on wood; 72 x 72 inches
This piece is nothing less than EPIC. Be sure to take a few extra minutes to check out this website and this one for some detail photos and information about Tomaselli’s work.

And then I get home and Life Happens. Dishes. Laundry. Baby bottles and diapers and pets that need fed and sleep that needs caught up on and dinner that needs made, groceries that need shopped for, relationships that need quality time.

And-of-course, The Tyranny of The Totally Unimportant: mindless television, Facebook feeds refreshing, a “quick game of solitaire.”

Necessary endeavors and time sucks and everything in between, and suddenly I am no longer creating or even feeling creative. And I am so discouraged with myself.

I try to nurture my artist’s soul. I read poetry in the bath. I watch crafting-type-TV-shows when I’m feeding the baby. I listen to groovy music while I wash the dishes. But I all-too-often let something more pressing keep me from actually sharpening my pencil or dipping my brush in paint.

I am realizing that what I need more than anything is to constantly, consistently consume art. I need to see it. I need to drink it in with my eyes because that’s what gets my molecules humming. That’s what fills me with the urge to create that’s more compelling than the urge to do just about anything else.

It’s what makes me think, “If I can just hurry up and get X done I’ll have twenty minutes to paint before I have to do Y.”

It’s the difference knowing/hoping/feeling that I am an artist and actually creating art.

Seven Quick Takes

7 Quick Takes Friday - Hosted at ConversionDiary.com

1. I’d like to ask all my bloggy friends again to PLEASE pray for Apollo. Apollo’s mom and dad have recently had some discouraging news about Apollo’s health… he will have to undergo heart surgery AGAIN. This sweet little boy has already been through so much and I desperately hope that he will be completely healed by God’s hand working through some rare medical miracle. I may be fantastically out of touch with reality on that one, but I think that situations like this are just what prayer is for. So there.

2. Maybe I’m the last design professional in America to find this out, but did you know that Harvard Business Review freaking ROCKS THE CASBAH art-and-design-wise? I had never opened an issue before (and honestly, never cared to… I’m more an O, Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest, Juxtapoz magazine sorta gal) but a colleague of mine had last month’s issue lying on his desk, and cover caught my eye:

Kinda snazzy, right? Simple but punchy, it did its job and made me want to open the magazine. Well, once insider I was floored to find out that for each issue HBR chooses a series of works by an established artist to illustrate the articles on a featured topic. This issue was all about sales, and the Spotlight artist was Chad Wys, who does some really dynamic mixed media work with found objects and vintage design elements. LOVE LOVE LOVE:

Even though I work in corporate America – in business development, no less – I have long maintained that my purpose in life is just to make pretty pictures, full stop. But the older I get the more interested I am in marketing, corporate culture, and the relationships between colleagues and clients/vendors/service providers. And I find it very encouraging that a premier business periodical takes design so seriously – because many people don’t understand art, they think it doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t matter in their industry. Which isn’t true, regardless of the kind of work you do – human beings are seduced by pretty pictures, and pretty pictures have officially made me a fan of the Harvard Business Review.

3. Although Mr. Wys is partly to blame, I think it’s mostly just the season that has me all sorts of inspired to start art-ing again. I go through phases, which used to depress me (like I have to be FREAKING! CREATIVE! ALL! THE! TIME!) but now I know it’s just part of being a very well-rounded *grin* person. Sometimes my mood is nest-y and clean-y and homebody-y and that’s what I focus my free time on. And sometimes my mood is artsy and craftsy (especially during the fall and winter months, it seems – convenient for the creation of presents and making of money) and that’s where my spare time goes. You just gotta go with the flow, sometimes.

4. I know I’m probably the last person on the internet to jump on this bandwagon, but c’mon, how awesome is dogshaming? I got an email from my MIL this week with some real gems – seriously, I laughed until I had tears running down my face. Two favorites:

The Frog-Eating Jerk

and The Reason Why Mommy and Daddy Can’t Have Nice Things

I’m sure you’ve figured out that I find this one particularly hilarious because I, too, have three dogs and they are the reason we don’t have nice things.

5. I’m making some cakes tonight for a company bake sale. One, of course, will be my pumpkin-apple cake, this time with a brown-sugar glaze. We’ll see how that turns out. The other one will be Ina Garten’s sour cream coffee cake. You know that I am feeling particularly generous when I decide to make a cake that freaking awesome (and it’s a recipe I’ve never made before! I usually like to try new recipes on myself) for a bake sale. Now I’m gonna have to pay a dollar for a piece of my own cake. What can I say, I’m a giver. Who complains about giving. Whatever.

6. A few nights ago my husband introduced me to one of his favorite movies, which was… well, an EXPERIENCE. You, too, can experience this particular slice of cinema magic for yourself if you have a Netflix streaming account and a few brain cells to kill. Oh, and if you don’t mind slightly inappropriate comedy. (Two of the movie’s supporting actors are Wanda Sykes and Chris Rock.) People, I’m talking about Pootie Tang. It was some of the dumbest stuff I’ve ever seen but… well, I do have to admit that it was pretty fun.

7. Did you watch the series premiere of The Neighbors on Wednesday? Well, if you didn’t, don’t be said, you didn’t miss anything all that great – except for a brief cameo by an alpaca. Well, my husband thought it was a llama, but I thought it looked distinctly petite and fluffy and alpaca-like, so I corrected him. He was like, “Who the hell are you, Steve Irwin? What’s an alpaca and how do you know about it?” As if alpacas are an exotic unknown species! So I did a (very scientific) Facebook poll to find out how many of my friends had heard of an alpaca before. Turns out, A LOT. So that should prove to my husband that you don’t have to be one of the Kratt brothers to know what an alpaca is. Nyeh.

Would you look at those cute widdle faces??? Photo source.

That’s it, y’all! Go see Jen for more quick takes.

Of autumn and nests and Pinterest

Image source is Martha Stewart dot com. Natch.

I’m so excited about fall coming. My husband and I spent the weekend at a friend’s house in North Carolina, and on Saturday the rain coming in over the river brought cool breezes and gloomy clouds, and that made me want to curl up with a quilt and a good book. Then Sunday morning I spied a fall flavors K-cup sampler in the cupboard and I was undone. Pumpkin spice coffee made me think of pumpkin bread and deep fried turkey and leaves turning golden and red and falling and chilly evenings watching scary movies and planning to make five hundred thousand awesome Christmas decorations and presents and then realizing I’d bitten off way more than I could chew and finally buying some last minute cheap plastic stuff at Wal-mart and finally getting to the New Year and thinking, okay, I’m ready for summer again.

I love the rhythm of the year. I love the energy that comes with each season.

You know how supposedly pregnant women getting ready to go into labor “nest?” The thing is I am constantly in nesting mode, regardless of what stage of pregnancy or not-pregnancy I’m in (FYI, we’re at 11 weeks-ish now). I am always wanting to move and change and decorate and craft and organize and throw things away and feather my nest. Unfortunately I have this thing called a job that takes up way too much time, and when I’m not working there’s a toddler that needs attention and groceries to be bought and laundry to be done and dinner to be cooked and reruns of The Big Bang Theory to be watched and sometimes I really miss those lazy years right after college when I was working about 2 days a week and spending the rest of my waking hours just looking for things to entertain myself. I don’t really miss much about life back then (this was post-cult but pre-divorce and I was about as miserable and confused as any 20-something could possibly be) but I do miss the freedom to watch endless Buffy reruns while making lots of bad crafts.

Now crafting time necessarily steals from other activities and interests. I only have so many minutes in a day, and that might be why my chief creative endeavor some months weeks is just the act of scrolling through Pinterest boards. I used to buy stacks of magazines with words like “garden” and “country” and “cottage” in their titles, but now all my inspiration (and vague feelings of not-measuring-up) is found online. During some seasons in my life I eschew all crafty input, as if not looking at beautiful pictures will make living in a crowded, sticky, fur-coated home easier. And maybe it does – I do believe that comparison is an enemy of joy – but I also believe, I KNOW, that pretty things make me life better.

Sometimes drinking a cup of pumpkin spice coffee on a rainy day is all I need to see the potential in my crowded, sticky, fur-coated home. Bring on the fall, bring on the inspiration, bring on something beautiful.

Design Showcase: Seven Sevens eBook by Devi Anne Moore

This past fall/winter, a friend of mine put me in touch with a local artist and teacher, Devi Anne Moore, a devoted follower of Christ who felt a calling to “paint” the Book of Revelation 25 years ago. The artwork that came from her study of John’s vision is a series of mixed-media paintings/collages/sculptures that can only be described as breathtaking. She’s exhibited her work throughout the country and received numerous awards and accolades, and for the past few years she’s been eager to produce an ebook of the series to share her vision with the church around the world. She asked me to design the layout for her book and produce a PDF ebook that she could sell on her website.

Devi has divided her work into seven groups of seven “paintings.” Each group represents a different section or subtext of Revelation: for instance, the opening of the seven seals described in chapters six through eight, and the seven women mentioned throughout the book. So I created seven separate eBooks that are available for purchase separately or as a complete set. Each book includes Devi’s prayerful thoughts on the book of Revelation as a whole, as well as specific notes on each piece of work.

The title page of the first ebook, The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.

A two-page spread from the first ebook, The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.

It was truly an honor to work with Devi on this project, which I know was not only a labor of love but an act of worship. Not only did I get to help her bring her dream to fruition, I was inspired by her determination and dedication to her calling. She made me want to devote myself even more to encouraging others through art, as she’s done in her life.